Minhee Kim's textural work challenges conventional notions of identity and representation
“I strive to subvert and reinterpret some of the stereotypical East Asian female characters that have been portrayed by the Western world,” says the South Korean painter.
- Joey Levenson
- 18 April 2023
On first glance, the richly textured, large-scale paintings by Minhee Kim are hard to grasp. Almost exclusively portraits of East Asian women, the paintings gather inspiration from a wide palette: cyberpunk, techno-orientalism and the female form. They’re maximalist yet somehow serene, and always arresting. “Ever since I was young, I've enjoyed creating female characters from my imagination and bringing them to life through my drawings,” Minhee tells It’s Nice That. “They’re futuristic images that serve as motifs for contemporary female characters in popular culture.”
Minhee mostly ventures back into nostalgia, drawing on her memories of “distorted bodies and exaggerated femininity of [video game] characters” from the 90’s. “At the time, I found the distorted bodies and exaggerated femininity of these characters to be cool and popular,” she says. “However, I no longer enjoy the exaggerated distortion of the body and objectification of women in art.”
It’s no surprise that Minhee is now one of a select few artists on Avant Arte’s Studio Works, which offers the chance to collect original artworks by emerging global artists. Her focus on technology is profound, and offers her “a lens through which to explore and critique the ways in which technology shapes our lives and our identities”. They’re heavy themes to tackle, but Minhee makes it look easy. “I'm interested in how the future was imagined in the past, and how those imaginings continue to influence our perceptions of the future today.” she explains. “I use a variety of techniques, such as digital painting and oil painting, to bring old images of East Asian popular culture to life.” Minhee’s process involves a lot of experimentation and iteration, often to find the right balance between nostalgia and innovation, and “to create images that challenge and subvert conventional notions of identity and representation”.
One work in particular that audiences may recognise immediately is Yubari, Minhee’s portrayal of Gogo Yubari from the 2003 film Kill BIll. “Portrayed as a brutal fighter, this piece highlights how Western media often exploit the vulnerability of Asian women,” Minhee tells us. “I seek to present a new definition of this hybrid character by digitally processing Yubari's image, which is floating on the web, to amplify the brutality, madness and beauty of the original character.” This is part of Minhee’s steadfast commitment to overturning the stereotypes and images created by fears of techno-orientalism. “I see depictions of an Asian-led future as dystopian, or the ways in which Asian identity is dehumanised through merging with machine imagery, which are all too common in mass media created by the Western world,” she explains.
Thus these paintings, while aesthetically beautiful, serve a greater purpose to “investigate and collect these clearly defined images, process them into digital images, and create new fantasies and metaphors.” They’re epic works of art that transform Western chauvinism and place East Asian female characters back into the hands of East Asian female artists. “I believe that by using enduring images that traverse the past, present and future, I can look back at traces of the past and draw new futures,” Minhee concludes.
Minhee Kim: <Crystal Eyes> (Copyright © Minhee Kim, 2022)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. They were part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.